April 13, 2024

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11 Easy Shoulder Mobility Exercises From A Trainer

7 min read

Mobility training is having a main character moment and continues to remain in the wellness spotlight thanks to its major rewards (hint: it improves your range of motion, limits joint pain, and prevents injury). While training your overall mobility will help you function at your peak, you can also target specific areas of the body that may need a little TLC. Today’s mobility lesson plan: shoulders.

“Mobility is the ability to actively move a joint through a complete range of motion, ideally without pain and with ease of movement and coordination,” says Colette Nguyen, CPT, a certified personal trainer and trainer at Soho Strength Lab. “Having adequate mobility allows you to move your body as desired with relative comfort and efficiency.”

Meet the expert: Colette Nguyen, CPT, is an ACE-certified personal trainer and trainer at Soho Strength Lab.

Imagine performing everyday movements like showering, putting your hair in a ponytail, getting dressed, and reaching for groceries off a high shelf with total ease. That’s a sign of good shoulder mobility.

“The best cocktail for mobile shoulders includes a combination of soft tissue work, dynamic movement, isometric holds in various positions, and loaded movements to strengthen healthy shoulder movement and shoulder stability,” says Nguyen.

That’s because the shoulder is a complex system that involves multiple bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These all work together to allow you to perform your go-to movements in and out of the gym, according to Nguyen.

Mobility is not the same as flexibility or stability, but they are all connected. Flexibility is the ability of soft tissue to passively lengthen and for your body to achieve a certain position which requires no strength, coordination, or stability, explains Nguyen. Stability, on the other hand, is the ability of a joint to maintain control during a movement or positioning and it implies a joint being able to resist unwanted movement, she adds.

Now you may be wondering, does stretching help with mobility? Yes and no. “Static stretching is used to train flexibility, not mobility,” says Nguyen. “Having adequate flexibility may enhance your mobility.”

No matter what your starting point, you can improve your shoulder mobility with these effective exercises, recommended by Nguyen. Keep in mind that change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to see progress depending on your current ability and overall wellness, says Nguyen. You should see improved range of motion within four weeks of consistent mobility work.

11 Best Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Whether your shoulder range of motion is extremely limited, or your joints feel smooth and well-oiled, try these 11 exercises for an efficient (the whole routine will only take 10 minutes!) routine to improve your shoulder mobility, programmed by Nguyen.

Mobility work can be done any time of the day that fits with your schedule, and *at least* three times a week to see progress, Nguyen. “It can serve as a warm-up, a cooldown, or a maintenance routine on your rest days. You could also do it first thing in the morning to energize you for the day, or close to bedtime to help you feel more relaxed before crawling into bed,” she adds.

Safety tip: If you feel sharp or shooting pain during any portion of the movement, stop immediately and check-in with your doctor or a physical therapist.

Instructions: Complete the recommended reps for each of the moves.

Standing Shoulder Mobility Exercises

1. Shoulder Circles

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and maintain a tall, upright posture.
  2. Keep your arms slightly away from your torso and begin to perform big, exaggerated circular shrugs moving your shoulders in a forward motion.
  3. Pause, then reverse the direction of the circles. Complete 10 reps in each direction.

2. Head Isolations

shoulder mobility exercises

Colette Nguyen

shoulder mobility exercises

Colette Nguyen

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and maintain a tall posture.
  2. Without moving your shoulders, nod your head down to look at your chest and pause for a second.
  3. Gently tilt your chin up toward the ceiling (think of nodding in a “yes” motion). Complete 10 reps in each direction.
  1. Without moving the shoulders, gently turn your face from left to right, pausing for a second on each side (think of nodding in a “no” motion). Complete 10 reps in each direction.
  1. Tilt your head and lower each ear toward its respective shoulder moving from left to right (think of nodding in a “maybe” motion), pausing for a second on each side. Complete 10 reps in each direction.

3. Egyptian Reach

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and maintain a tall posture.
  2. Reach and hold both arms out to the sides in a T position, with your palms rotated toward the ceiling.
  3. Slowly internally rotate one shoulder until you reach your maximum range of motion.
  4. Hold this position for a few seconds before slowly releasing back to the neutral T position. Complete 10 reps on each side.

4. Shoulder Circumduction

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and maintain a tall, upright posture.
  2. Place each hand on the tops of your shoulders with your elbows pointing out.
  3. Trace small- to medium-sized circles with your elbows in a forward motion.
  4. Repeat in the opposite direction. Complete 20 reps in each direction.

5. Straight-Arm Shoulder Circumduction

shoulder mobility exercises

Colette Nguyen

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and maintain a tall posture.
  2. Hold both arms outward to the sides in a T position with your hands closed into fists.
  3. Keep your elbows straight and actively reach outward as you quickly trace small circles with your fists at a moderate to quick pace in a forward motion before reversing direction. Complete 20 reps in each direction.

Floor Shoulder Mobility Exercises

1. Quadruped Scap Pushup

How to:

  1. Start on the floor on your hands and knees with a neutral spine.
  2. Keep your elbows straightened and push your upper back out as if you were forming a turtle shell across your upper back (you should feel a stretch).
  3. Hold this position for 20 seconds before slowly releasing back to the neutral spine starting position.
  4. Then, without holding the position at the top, repeat the range of motion at a moderate pace for 10 reps.

2. Modified Side Plank And Rotational Reach

How to:

  1. Start in a half-side plank with your knees folded, right forearm on the ground, and left arm reaching toward the ceiling. Be sure to place the supporting elbow directly underneath the shoulder.
  2. Keep your hips pressed up as high as possible and reach the left hand underneath the torso as if you are giving yourself a hug.
  3. Pause for a second.
  4. Return to the starting position with your left arm back up reaching toward the ceiling. Complete 10 reps on each side.

3. Prone Swimmer Row

shoulder mobility exercises

Colette Nguyen

How to:

  1. Lie on the floor face-down with your arms extended and angled slightly away from the torso (forming the letter “A”), with both hands held in fists and your thumbs touching the floor.
  2. Keep a long neck and your elbows straightened as you lift your fists behind you until you hit the edge of your range of motion (maintain the A shape).
  3. Hold this position for 10 seconds.
  4. Slowly release arms back to the floor.
  5. Next, without holding the position at the top, repeat the range of motion at a moderate pace for 10 reps.

4. Prone Swimmer

How to:

  1. Lie on the floor face-down with your arms lengthened overhead.
  2. Begin the movement by lifting only your arms off the floor (keep your head and torso down) and reaching out and down as if you are tracing the circumference of a big circle with your fingertips.
  3. As you approach the bottom half of the movement, allow the arms to rotate naturally to touch the lower back.
  4. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position and release the arms all the way down to the floor. Complete 10 reps.

5. Prone Isometric Chest Press

shoulder mobility exercises

Colette Nguyen

How to:

  1. Lie on the floor face-down and place your hands comfortably on either side of your chest with the elbows pointing upwards (think of this as the bottom position of a pushup).
  2. Keep your hands wide and evenly planted as you push both palms into the floor with firm, consistent pressure while keeping your head and torso on the floor.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds, then release the press.
  4. Next, without holding the position at the top, repeat the range of motion at a moderate pace for 10 reps.

6. Child’s Pose

shoulder mobility exercises

Colette Nguyen

shoulder mobility exercises

Colette Nguyen

How to:

  1. From a kneeling position, sit on your feet and lean your torso on top of your thighs with the arms stretched overhead on the floor. You can widen the knees as needed to get into a more comfortable position.
  2. Keep the arms long and press the hands firmly into the floor while pushing your back out toward the ceiling. Hold for 20 seconds.
  3. Walk your hands over toward one side, keeping the arms long, and press the hands firmly into the floor while pushing the opposing armpit/ribcage out. Hold for 20 seconds before repeating on the other side.

Pro tip: For an additional stretch, Nguyen recommends externally rotating your arms so your thumbs point up toward the ceiling as you perform the move in each position.

Headshot of Andi Breitowich

Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.  

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